November 9, 2015 / 1:12 PM / 4 years ago

Burundi says arms collection proceeds peacefully, dismisses critics

NAIROBI, Nov 9 (Reuters) - Burundi’s government said on Monday efforts to collect illegal arms were proceeding peacefully, dismissing remarks by Rwanda’s president that the nation could be sliding back into ethnic conflict.

President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, a neighbouring state that was torn apart by genocide in 1994 and shares the same ethnic mix as Burundi, has added his voice to growing international concerns about violence in Burundi.

The latest violence came in an attack on a Bujumbura bar on Saturday that witnesses said killed nine people, officials said. Police were not involved, they said, but a witness said the attackers had police uniforms.

“What Kagame has said is indecent and unfair,” presidential aide Willy Nyamitwe told Reuters. “The government is now collecting all the guns because the president has given a deadline ... Everything is going peacefully.”

At least 200 people have been killed and tens of thousands have fled to neighbouring states, during months of violence that began when President Pierre Nkurunziza decided in April to run for a third term. He won a disputed election in July.

It has plunged Burundi into its worst crisis since the end of a 12-year civil war in 2005, which pitted rebel groups from the majority Hutu ethnic group against the army, which at the time was led by the minority Tutsis.

Nkurunziza had set a Nov. 7 deadline for people to surrender illegal arms. The president said those who did not hand over arms would be treated as criminals.

Critics such as the United States warned the move may incite more violence if security forces start searching homes for weapons. Opposition members said they worry the security forces will plant weapons to target opponents.

“Your government will be held responsible for violence against Burundian citizens in coming weeks,” the British parliamentary under-secretary of state, James Duddridge, wrote to Burundi’s minister for foreign affairs, Alain Nyamitwe on Nov. 6.

The presidential aide dismissed the criticism, saying the opposition was painting a false picture of tensions in Burundi. “Everything is going smoothly. There is no violence while the government is trying to collect all the weapons,” he said.

The presidential aide said he could not give any figures for the number of weapons collected till now, but noted that a stash of arms and ammunition had been found in Mutakure, a district in Bujumbura where there has been vocal opposition to the government.

Writing by Edmund Blair, editing by Larry King

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